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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Back to the dungeon. (Some Basic D&D talk)

My D&D 5th ed campaign has lost it's steam for the moment. The holidays brought with them a gaming drought which stole any momentum or desire I had where running my game is concerned. It happens every year. We will get back to it, we always do. *

I  have proposed that we try something I have actually never done. A full on dungeon crawl.

My games have traditionally been about  characters traipsing around the land, dealing with things they find and moving on. Rarely have they gone below ground.

As I have gotten older I have started obsessing a bit over odd details... Why is the  mega dungeon there? How was it built? where did all the dirt go? Who paid for this huge public works project. How do those orcs get food? Air? Gravity, hows that work? and so on. Without question if I have a big ass multi-level magical dungeon in the middle of my game world I want it to have some logic behind it. with that in mind, the whole mega dungeon concept doesn't fit very well into my own game. In order to facilitate an actual dungeon crawl style game, I have to make a stand alone "world" just for this game. World being a strong word. Creating an area or a town should be enough. Creating a base of  operations for the  players to sally forth from and  return to if they are able (lucky). . I exhibit less and less fantasy flexibility in my thinking as I get older. I guess it's just a sign of living  more and more in a world where i have to  think  logically 90% of the time, rather than having a ton of time to daydream about sex, games, and  whatever. I yearn for those days when I could allow myself to create parts of a game world that make zero logical sense. (Ok, I'm legit digressing .. gotta get back on task here.)

To facilitate this foray into a dungeon I have called on an old reliable buddy. The basic D&D Rules Cyclopedia (RC from here on). Now I know it's not everyone's favorite version of  Basic, but it's hard to argue the convenience of having everything in one book. I own a dead tree version of the compendium which I bought new back in the early 90's. As of a few days ago I bought the PDF from Drive through.
Ok so I don't love the layout of the book once it becomes a PDF. Still, I don't want to be tossing my table used and now pretty fragile hard copy around if I don't have to.

Some interesting things going on already. 
  • I have players who have never seen Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling presented as classes. It took them a few minutes to accept that as how it is. I always like Race as class. In my mind it lets an elf be an elf, and a dwarf be a dwarf  (halflings are a bit underwhelming but .. should be given their literary source.) A demihuman class is something a player will choose because they want to play that race on it's own merits. Rather than picking a race for its optimal stack of bonuses to layer on a class. There is no halfling thief. Though you could play a sneaky halfling. The Basic D&D halfling presented in the RC could sneak into smaug's lair. Though the dwarves might have been better served hireling a REAL thief. An elf is a magical creature wielding spells and a sword. The dwarf is incredibly hardy and  punchy, but will never be exactly as skilled as a leveled warrior. It all just works for me.
  • I touched on it above, Tolkien's influence on D&D is felt strongly in this edition. The basic classes seem to be emulating the fellowship to a tee. (Ok, so the thief not so much.) I might be reading a bit too much into it. The druid and the mystic being add-ons, break the tolkien pattern and stand out all the  more because of it. Others before me have dismantled the Tolkien, D&D relationship a hundred times, but it's interesting to see just where it was when this  book was compiled.
  • THAC0 is confusing to players who have never dealt with it. So is rolling over on d20 for  saves, but roll under attributes for skill checks. I can see why  some of the decisions that made 3rd edition happened. Unifying all the die rolls to  D20 + Bonus vs a difficulty was new to D&D back in 2000, but now it's the defacto way many players think of the game.
  • Depending on how the reader looks at it , this might be the only version of D&D that was ever considered "complete" rather than "replaced." The turnaround time for D&D editions went from 10 years between AD&D first edition and AD&D second edition, to 11 years between second edition and third (3.5 came out three years later I'm sticking with whole number edditions.) Then dropped to 8 years between third edition and fourth, then six years between fourth edition and fifth edition. 
    I'm not going to go all the way back to 1977 for the  J.E.Holmes basic rules because it was quite a different animal. Even still the 1981 revision means the basic rules were in development for well over a decade before the Cyclopedia was even published. The basic rules were never replaced. So we could say the "complete" D&D basic rules (as compiled in the RC) have been in the wild for 26 years and are still serviceable and being played today. That's a great track record, shared by  some but not many games. ** Iguess the point is in a way moot. One cool concept is that in our community A person can find people  playing and dedicated to every  edition and every sub-version of D&D that's ever come down the pipe. 
  • Using the mastery rules, the dagger is pretty great. Just sayin.
  • The grappling rules in Basic are too complicated and drawn out. I'm going to give them another read through to see if I can find anything I want to use. As of right now if it comes up I'll usurp the strength check system of 5th edition.
  • I HAVE TO get back in the habit of tracking time precisely. It's important in this system and it's important to this style of game. A dungeon is dangerous (like the ocean, or a high mountain) because it doesn't give a shit about the characters. It will wear out a parties food, torches, hit points, potions, over time. It will always be there. A party does not just get up and leave a dungeon. If it takes them 12 hours to walk in, all that dungeon is still behind them, waiting. Safety is not just around the corner. To enforce that concept I need to know precisely how long the party has been walking around down there. I can't just hand wave time, or the  threat of being hurt cold, isolated and hungry can be solved simply by saying "we go back the way we came." I have to force my self to be vigilant about time, and for someone with my kind of freewheeling style and lack of  true focus, that kind of discipline is going to be tough.
  • I touched on this above and it is worth saying again. I'm not greatly impressed with the RC in PDF form. I should  get a nice set of cheat sheets ready so I don't have to go rooting around in the book for rules clarifications.
  • I need to remind the  players to write down what their spells do..I hate looking up spells.
  • Playing online is simply no where near as easy as playing at the table, but it's what we have to do. I'm not going to use roll 20 to do maps. I'm horrid at that. I'm going to run the game the same way I would at the table. The players will have to keep track of their locations. Though I'm not going demand some poor soul draw every inch of the dungeon I describe. I have never seen that as a valuable or fun part of the game. I am thinking of asking for a cartography skill roll every hour of game time from the character doing the mapping. The quality of the  roll will effect the quality of the map and hence it's usefulness when the  group backs out of the dungeon. Kind of riffing off how Torchbearer works dungeon mapping, I'll see how it goes.
  • Though I might have tokens for each character to do positioning  for fights if we have to. That's super easy to do on roll 20.
  • Ok. I just revisited the wrestling rules, they are simpler than I remember. I can ask the players to write their character's Wrestler rating on some dark corner of their character sheets and most likely never use it.
  • I love that this book gives the reader the rules in the  most unpretentious way possible.. Just here it is, go use it.
  • For me I think they could have cut out the "D&D Game world" section and added the rules from the immortal level boxed set. I know it's been like 26 years, too late to complain about that now right? ***
  • I'm not going to use or introduce any players options form any of the  gazettes, or Dragon magazines I have access to. Not right away. I want to keep the game to only the stuff in the RC. I hold the opinion that most games suffer from the weight of additional additions, splat books, and expansions. Basic D&D was an exception that that they expanded the game into new levels with the basic expert companion, maser and immortal rules. In that way the new boxes didn't effect characters at lower levels all that much. With the RC most of that info is in one place as one system, so I feel it has enough to get us by for a quite while. IN fact chances are we will move on for this game before we even truly scratch the surface.
  • I will be giving experience for gold piece value of treasure found. ****
  • One of the players realized his starting thief has 10 HP at third level. It is going to be an adjustment to say the least.
I think that's enough for now. We are supposed to start this Friday night. I will keep the blog and you fine folks posted on how everything goes for the first few games.

Thank you for reading
-Mark.


* This will not always be true. Someday we won't get back to  this stuff, that's just a fact. Never really thought about it until recently.

** Car wars deluxe dropped in 1988 and I think that's the game people still mean when they say "car wars." The  other 4 editions of car wars seemed lesser in my experience, but I could be very wrong. I'm hard pressed to to think of other games left generally unchanged. Blood bowl? that didn't change much between editions.... still makes me want to flip tables.

*** Just did ...postmortem complaints ...
**** I hear Otto Clapping.